Cumberland Pencil Museum, Keswick

Cumberland Pencil Museum, Keswick

I have been meaning to visit The Cumberland Pencil Museum for ages. It’s been on my ‘Must Go!’ list for at least two years. So it was with great excitement that on a sunny Easter Saturday we finally tootled up the M6 to Keswick.

Nestled amongst stunning mountains Keswick is a busy, bustling Lake District tourist town – not quite as overrun with wall-to-wall outdoor equipment shops, frilly cafes and organic delis as Ambleside. Thankfully.

The Cumberland Pencil factory building itself is a great example of Art Deco era architecture; resplendent with Gill Sans signage. The actual museum is housed within a pale blue 1950s prefab decorated with large MDF pencils. It’s a cheery little place.

The entrance to the exhibition is slightly disappointing – visitors have to traipse through a room of unnecessary fake caves, complete with mining dummies whose feet are falling off. In my opinion this part of the exhibition could do with being scrapped. Perhaps in order to give more space to showing off the biggest pencil in the world – which is currently housed (not to its maximum potential) in a case in a corridor.

  • Nearby Borrowdale was the first place in the world where graphite was discovered, around 1500.
  • When a pencil is made – it is precisely 184mm long.
  • The local name for graphite was 'wad' and upon its discovery it soon became a precious commodity. The graphite mines were taken over by the government and wad was transported to London by armed stage coach.

These are just three of the fascinating things I learnt from my visit. I also got to look at some splendid examples of pencil packaging, and some very inventive pencil displays too.

Also on show is the RAF’s wartime pencil – given to all servicemen before flying on missions over Germany. The pencils contained a rolled up map of Germany and a compass where the eraser tip should have been. The Germans never discovered this wartime secret.

I enjoyed the museum, but left wishing that a visit inside the factory was included in the admission. Apart from anything, just imagine all the lovely original, municipal art deco fittings and fixtures there might be in there…!

How to get there

Directions and map on the Pencil Museum website.

Links

Comments

I went there too! my dad bought loads of those inktense watercolour pens after we watched a demonstration video. They're really cool!

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